14 Fierce Female Entrepreneurs: The Women Behind the Brands
You’ve got a knack for ideas. When others get stumped by dilemmas, you’re already conjuring up ways around them. For you, they’re not problems – they’re opportunities. You’ve got an entrepreneurial mindset and wouldn’t mind being your own boss for a change.
Don’t let your gender keep you from pursuing those dreams! The field of entrepreneurialism may be notoriously male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean you can’t step up to the plate and take on the challenge.
Get inspired by the greats who are leaving their mark on the entrepreneurial world. Here are 14 female entrepreneurs who’ve been playing with the big boys and championing their own companies.
1. Madame C.J. Walker of Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing
Imagine this: Born into 1867 Louisiana, she perseveres and overcomes all odds to become the first female African American self-made millionaire.
Madame C.J. Walker made her fortune off of specialized products for African American hair. When struck with hair loss, she worked to develop products and treatments, traveling to promote them and give demonstrations throughout the U.S., Central America and Caribbean. The success of her inventions led to the founding of the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, solidifying her accomplishments.
2. Anita Roddick of The Body Shop
It’s hard to walk through a mall these days without seeing The Body Shop. But the environmentalist retailer wasn’t always a staple in the beauty industry.
Founder Anita Roddick’s world travels in her early years left a lasting impression and a passion for environmental activism. She opened The Body Shop in 1976 to support her family while her husband was away. After launching more than 2,000 worldwide locations to date, the company has never lost sight of its commitment to environmentalism with its minimalist packaging and natural ingredients.
It was purchased by L’Oreal in 2006 and upon Roddick’s death the following year she left her $70 million to charity.
3. Debbie Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies
Can you envision living in a world without Mrs. Fields Cookies? It’s hard to imagine this international brand never coming to existence.
Mother of five Debbi Fields always loved baking and turned her passion into a business. She opened her first bakery — Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery — in 1977. When the first day turned out to have slow sales, she lured customers in with samples. Soon the bakery expanded to 700 locations across 10 countries.
Mrs. Fields Cookies is now a $450 million dollar company.
4. Joy Mangano of Joy Mangano Products
Maybe you’ve seen her infomercials. Perhaps you recognize her from HSN. Or you might have seen the movie based on her life story, Joy.
Joy Mangano’s claim to fame is her self-wringing mop, but her empire was built off many patented inventions, including compact hangers and handheld steamers. She first appeared on HSN selling her renowned Miracle Mop in 1992, and the rest is history.
Mangano went from being a single mother juggling multiple jobs to becoming a household name who is now worth $3 billion.
5. Weili Dai of Marvell Technology Group
Here’s a textbook case of the “American Dream.” A Shanghai immigrant arriving in the US at age 17 and speaking virtually no English went on to become one of the most successful founding women in the tech industry. Weili Dai had been interested in math and science and after attending U.S. schools for just one year, she went on to pursue her interests at UC Berkley, where she met her husband.
The two teamed up in 1995 to found Marvell Technology Group, a semiconductor company which produces a majority of silicon chips on the market. Despite its massive success, Dai still works amongst the masses in her cubical, considering herself more of a caretaker of the company than a cofounder and director.
Dai is now worth $720 million.
6. Angie Hicks of Angie’s List
It’s not every day that a fresh college grad starts a business – and a successful business at that! When Angie Hicks graduated with an economics degree in 1995 and was approached about founding a services review business, she took the leap. And thus, Angie’s List, a subscription service that lets members find services and submit personal reviews, was born.
The review site originated in Indianapolis — Hicks was uncompromising in her refusal to leave the Midwest – which was largely unheard of at the time and a risk to the business. But in sticking with the company’s Midwest roots and down to earth values, Angie’s List grew to become a hugely successful business. It has now expanded to more than 200 cities and 200 million households throughout the U.S. and Canada.
7. Sara Blakely of SPANX
For Sara Blakely, it all started with a pair of cut up pantyhose. The SPANX creator sold fax machines door-to-door to finance her product idea – a new type of body-shaping undergarments for women. She launched the company out of her apartment in 2000 and was relentless in her search for a buyer. She eventually landed a meeting with Neiman Marcus and her live, in-bathroom demo landed the sale.
But then, Blakely hit gold when SPANX were named one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things”, sending sales skyrocketing. The brand has since become a household name and expanded to an entire line of undergarments and clothing.
At age 41, Blakely was named the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire by Forbes Magazine.
8. Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post
It seems Huffington Post has been a staple media mogul for decades, but its debut was only a handful of years ago.
Arianna Huffington, already an established author at the age of 55, turned to the male-dominated realm of digital media when she cofounded Huffington Post in 2005. What started as a small site spread like wildfire to local pages across the U.S. and even in Europe. The Huffington Post is now a recognized and respected publication and was purchased by AOL for $315 million.
9. Catherine Cook of myYearbook
Moving to a new school is daunting for any student. But for 15-year-old Catherine Cook, it presented her with the perfect opportunity. How does one meet friends at a new school? Cook flipped through a yearbook and realized it would be much more effective online – so that’s just what she did!
In 2005, she and her brother found developers to build their website, myYearbook, which helped high school students find new friends. The site was hugely successful and was sold for $100 million in 2011 – not bad for a teenager’s idea.
10. Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe
Just three short years after the human genome was sequenced, Anne Wojcicki cofounded 23andMe with another biologist. The goal was to empower customers with access to their human genome information. But the business visionary didn’t develop over night – Wojcicki first spent 10 years in healthcare investing on Wall Street, where disease-driven profits discouraged her.
She turned her frustration into passion – a passion for preventative action in healthcare. She cofounded the personal genetic testing company in 2006 and it became the first approved for direct sales to consumers. The genetic data processed by 23andMe now comprises the world’s largest DNA database.
Despite a few setbacks with FDA regulations, 23andMe can now reveal to customers whether they are carriers of disease-causing genes. The company is currently valued at $1.03 billion.
11. Rashmi Sinha of SlideShare
With a Ph.D. in psychology under her belt, Rashmi Sinha found herself jaded by academia. She was intrigued by the excitement and fast-paced nature of a startup, leading her to cofound Slideshare – a digital platform devoted to sharing presentations – in 2006.
Together with her husband, Sinha launched SlideShare within six months, applying her insights on human psychology to build into the educational software. SlideShare hit the scene in 2006 and hosts more than 9 million presentations to date. It was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012 for $100 million.
12. Vicky Tsai of Tatcha
After experiencing serious skin problems from beauty and skincare products, financier Vicky Tsai found the answer in Japan. While on a business trip for her corporate job, she met a modern day geisha and was astonished by the quality of her skin. Tsai did some research and discovered an 1813 book of geisha beauty routines.
13. Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna of Birchbox
MBA students Katie Beauchamp and Hayley Barna connected over a mutual love of beauty products while enrolled at Harvard. The two saw a need to cut through the clutter of products on the market and provide beauty enthusiasts with samples before committing to a big purchase.
Though their cold calls to beauty brands were met with resistance, the two founded Birchbox in 2010, a beauty product sample subscription service. What started with Beauchamp and Barna manually filling and shipping boxes to 600 subscribers monthly has evolved into more than 800,000 subscriptions and 300 employees.
Birchbox has now expanded to include men’s products and is valued at $485 million.
14. Sarah Leary of Nextdoor
Tech industry veteran Sarah Leary saw a gaping hole in the social media world when she realized she only knew one neighbor on her block. With no social networks devoted to connecting neighbors, Leary envisioned Nextdoor as a way to bring communities together.
Since its launch in 2011, a staggering 40 percent of U.S. neighborhoods have logged in and connected using the platform. With more communities using Nextdoor, crime has even dropped in some areas, such as Sacramento.
The company is now valued at more than $1 billion.
Are all of these powerhouse female entrepreneurs inspiring you to follow your business dreams and be your own boss? Turns out you're not alone...check out our infographic on the ascent of the millennial entrepreneur to learn more!